Are Your Children Living Their Lives – or Yours?

Jane always wanted to be on the cheerleading squad. However, Jane’s mother was working two jobs, barely keeping things together for Jane and her brother. It just wasn’t possible. Bill was an all-state football star in high school. He made it through most of college on a scholarship until he was injured and had to stop playing.

Jane’s successful in her marketing career, and she and her husband have two children. They can afford for them to be in sports and activities – and they’re insisting their children do them. Bill’s son has just started junior varsity football, and Bill’s already pushing for another generation of football stars in the family.

There’s no problem with wanting your children to succeed – all parents do that. There’s no problem in supporting them in the things they’re interested in and encouraging them to do their best. However, parents need to be cautious that their goals for their children aren’t about reliving their glory days or living a life they never got to live.

Never Lived

If you ask people about their regrets in life, it’s rare that they speak of something they’ve done. More frequently, you hear about a chance to be courageous or try something new that they decided against. Those missed opportunities carry a special weight and pain for most of us. (See The Top Five Regrets of the Dying for more.) It’s no wonder why Jane might feel a longing that she never got to be the cheerleader she dreamed of because of the circumstances.

It seems harmless at first. Jane starts to see her daughter becoming a cheerleader and revives a dream within herself that she had long decided would never happen. Most of the time when watching her daughter cheer for the team, Jane feels pride. However, every now and then, she slips into a moment where she feels like she’s watching a movie of herself being out on that field cheering for the team.

That’s not a problem though. It’s reasonable to want to dream about something that you missed. It turns sideways when it stops being about what the daughter wants.

Living Vicariously

Over time, it’s possible for Jane to integrate a part of her ideal life through her daughter’s activities. She brings cheerleading back not through herself directly but through her daughter. Jane’s identity as a person starts to include “mother of a cheerleader.” It’s not quite the same as “former cheerleader,” but it’s close enough. It’s enough to make her believe that something she thought she had lost is now regained.

Slowly, every win for her daughter is a win for Jane. When the team makes it to the state championships, it’s like Jane has done something good, that she’s a part of it. She leans in and helps make costumes for the team or organizes transportation for the meets. She becomes an integral part of the cheerleading team’s support – and thus the team itself.

Momma Knows Best

Anyone who has had children in activities knows that there’s going to be a time when they complain. They’ll find it’s hard and decide they want to quit. It might be a long practice, getting corrected by the coach, or just exhaustion from too many practices and not enough sleep. Parents have learned how to address this with caution by first understanding and then helping the child understand the implications of their choices about their feelings. It’s a good opportunity to teach delayed gratification – offering up that they’ll enjoy the win with the team if they can stick to it. (See The Marshmallow Test for more about delayed gratification.)

But what happens if the threat of leaving cheerleading threatens Jane’s identity? She’s a part of the team. She’s got friends wrapped up in the other team moms. She’d no longer be a “mother of a cheerleader.” She’ll lose her identity – again.

As a result, instead of a supportive parent exploring how this will impact her daughter’s life, she’s threatened, and lashes out that her daughter “must continue” with cheerleading whether she likes it or not. After all, momma knows best.

Family Failure

Failures are impossibly hard, too. When Jane’s daughter makes a mistake, it’s like Jane made it. Somehow, if Jane had done something different, then her daughter wouldn’t have made a mistake. Somehow, it’s Jane’s fault. The problem is, Jane’s equally sure that she knows it’s her fault, and she doesn’t know how to solve it.

There are at least two things wrong with this. The first is that mistakes are a normal and expected part of life. Beating yourself – or your daughter – up over a mistake isn’t the right answer. Trying to learn from mistakes is great. However, you can’t learn from something if you’re not the one doing it.

The second point is that Jane does not have control of her daughter. She’s not responsible for what her daughter does – good or bad. She can take pride in her daughter’s successes and comfort her in the mistakes and failures, but she’s not responsible. (See Compelled to Control for more about controlling others.)

The Message of Love

It doesn’t take Jane’s daughter long to feel like she’s more loved when she’s cheering – and doing it well. After all, Jane’s entire demeanor changes based how her daughter is doing. As a result, Jane’s daughter learns that love is conditional. Love is performance-based. (See The Road Less Traveled for more about performance-based love.) To her, people are loved when they’re doing well, and aren’t lovable when they’re failing.

A belief that we’re loved just because we are who we are provides some degree of inoculation against the momentary struggles that might overwhelm us. When love isn’t intrinsic and is instead a result of performance, there is no such inoculation. As a result, a child can feel fear, loneliness, and sometimes hopelessness.

Life on Repeat

Bill’s son was football star at his high school. He wasn’t all-state like Bill, but he was a star player, and Bill knew it. Football had become for Bill a bit of a tradition. After all, it felt like it was in the genes. He had a bloodline that knew how to play the game and play to win. Bill figured that if he could be all-state, then perhaps his son could play professionally. He remembered his dreams of making it and how they were smashed by the bad hit during college.

Bill longs for those glory days. He felt powerful and important. Bill feels like, in some ways, his best years are behind him. He’s got a good enough job, and he likes his wife, but somehow he doesn’t feel as alive as he once did.

Old Movies

When Bill’s son suits up, he remembers his early games and triumphant victories, the friends that he had – or at least he thought he had. For a moment, Bill gets to play the old movies in his head where he was the star and he gets to forget a little bit about how his life is today.

In one sense, Bill’s watching his son play. In quite another sense, he’s watching himself play in an old movie. He needs to keep watching the movie to feel a bit more alive.

But Tradition

Bill’s son has never been the rough and tumble type. He’s more of a bookworm who would be just fine burying his head in books for hours – or days – at a time. He knows that his dad is pleased when he plays, so he does it. His heart’s not in it, though, and it shows. He feels a sense of obligation to fulfil the family tradition – even if it’s not what he wants for his own life.

Bill’s son is caught between the person that he wants to be and the person that his family expects him to be. He cannot form his own identity and learn to be himself because he was always fighting off his family expectations.

Falling Out

What happens to Bill’s identity when his son finally reaches the point where he can say that he doesn’t want football to be a part of his identity? Bill has become wrapped in his son’s success much like his own. He’s sacrificed both in terms of time and money to ensure that his son had all the resources he needed to become the best football star. There were training camps and individual coaching and equipment. It all had to come from somewhere.

But now that’s all gone. It’s like a part of Bill is removed. It’s like his son is ripping out his heart – though that’s not the intent. Bill’s son wants his own identity, and that means taking it away from his father.

How could Bill react when he’s losing a part of himself? Clearly, not well. The problem isn’t with the reaction when he loses his identity. The problem is taking on his son’s identity in the first place. The conversation, depending upon whether Bill’s son is in high school or college, can cause a real family feud.

Driving the Wedge

It just seemed like an argument to Bill. He said how it was going to be and expected his son to toe the line. The problem is that Bill was miles away. His son got a scholarship at a university in another state with a great coach and a winning team. It meant that he really had a shot.

That is, until after the argument, when Bill’s son really shut down. He went from initial lineup to being benched most games. The coach decided that the scholarship wouldn’t be renewed next year, but no one told Bill. Bill’s son decides to take a break. He tells his dad he’d going to live off-campus and then finds a job at a coffee shop and doesn’t go to school at all.

The end is an unfinished college degree, a set of lies that Bill’s son tells him, and a life in a state that Bill’s son may never come back from. Tragically, it’s because Bill’s identity was wrapped up in his son’s successes. He was reliving the life he had through his son, and his son had finally had enough. He stood up to Bill, but Bill couldn’t hear it.

Tragedies

Both stories are tragedies, where children are deprived of their own dreams and identities in service of their parents. It’s not that every football star or cheerleader has these stories. For many, they are their own dreams – which may or may not be shared by their parents. However, in these cases, where the children want one thing and the parents are trying to live through them, the results are devastating.

Sometimes the result is a suicide, but, more frequently, it’s a distance in the relationship as the parents feel as if their child has betrayed them – all because they wanted to live their life, not their parent’s life.

When you’re cheering for your child, rooting for their success, and reveling in their triumphs, it’s hard to not take on a bit of that in your identity – but it’s absolutely necessary for your mental health and for theirs.

Talk to the Emotional Elephant

Yes, we do suggest talking to elephants. Perhaps not the elephants you’d see at a nature preserve, but instead the emotional elephant we all have within us. In fact, we suggest we talk to the elephant, not the rider supposedly “in control,” in this video.

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Book Review-Got Your Attention?

It takes more than a clever title and a tagline to connect with people. That’s just one of the messages from Sam Horn’s book Got Your Attention?. The chapters are short, just like the goldfish-sized attention span that Horn says we all have today. She’s not the only one. In Fascinate, Sally Hogshead sets the same expectation. Whether we’re literally as distractible as a goldfish, or it just seems that way, getting people’s attention is hard. In Got Your Attention?, Horn teaches you how to get – and keep – people’s attention.

Disconnection

In Alone Together, Sherry Turkle explains how technology has simultaneously increased our connection to one another and moved us farther apart. We can share screens and web cams with people on the other side of the planet – yet fewer and fewer people feel like they’ve got someone with whom they can share an intimate conversation. Horn quotes Stephen Marche: “We suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another.”

This leaves us all with a longing for connection – a connection that we crave ourselves and that we can offer to others. In offering connection to others, we can get their attention.

Intrigue

Connection comes when people are interested in each other, and the headwaters of interest start at intrigue. When we encounter something interesting, our reticular activating system (RAS) focuses our attention, so that we can move closer and find out more. (See Change or Die for more on the RAS.)

For some, they believe they don’t have anything interesting to say. For others, they can’t wait for the other person to stop talking, so they can start talking about themselves more. Neither end of the self-confidence spectrum serves us well when it comes to having a dialogue with the other person.

Dialogue

We know that our first step is to create intrigue, to get folks to want to know what we know – and we should simultaneously cultivate a sense of intrigue for what they do. However, it’s important to keep our end goals in mind. We want more than just an opportunity to sell or a chance at some funding we need. Our goal is connection. Whether we can help the other person in their business goals or not, can we find a way to connect with them?

The initial spark of interest comes from intrigue, and the result of interest is dialogue. Dialogue isn’t just communication. It’s not a barrage of words we inflict upon each other. Dialogue is the road on which we travel when we’re looking for the opportunity to connect with others. It’s a special and difficult form of communication that requires both parties be vulnerable with their whole self and who they are.

The ability to have a dialogue requires a degree of self-confidence. (For more on dialogue, see Dialogue.)

Self-Confidence

While Horn’s advice addresses the tactical issues surrounding getting people’s attention and how to maintain it, there’s a normal range that it works in – and sometimes people are outside of that range. I was reminded of an old chemistry class comment that chemical reactions often only happen inside of a pH range. As a result, you can put two chemicals together that should normally react violently, but if the pH is wrong, nothing happens.

The same is true of Horn’s advice. She recounts a story of an aspiring author whose meeting with a publisher goes horribly wrong, and the author doesn’t attempt to pitch her idea to anyone else – even when there were opportunities available to her. Her self-confidence and self-esteem were so crushed that she couldn’t continue to put herself out there in ways that someone else might be intrigued by. Despite this, other than a brusque comment that you must keep going, there’s little advice for how to build and maintain your self-esteem.

Before you can take advantage of Horn’s advice about the tactics you can use to increase your performance, you’ve got to find your courage. That is, you must find enough self-confidence to be able to step up to the plate and take a swing. One way to start that journey is to look to the advice of Find Your Courage.

The Introduction

If you were taught sales at any point in your world, it’s likely that someone taught you to perfect your elevator pitch. The idea was that, if you were in an elevator and someone asked you what you do, you have 30 seconds until one of you is going to get off the elevator. How do you express what you do in 30 seconds? If you were good, you were taught to say that you do A, B, and C, then end with the question about whether they know about those things or need them. The idea is to throw out three lines for potential connection and allow them to pick up one of them.

Horn’s approach is different. Instead of explaining three things you do – or three problems you solve – the idea is that you ask them three “did you know” questions. The point is to find something that is intriguing to the audience. It needs to be intriguing enough to want to know more. From there, Horn recommends transitioning to a set of “wouldn’t you like…” statements and finally close with the fact that you’ve already created that solution – so they don’t have to imagine.

This illustrates a difference in perspective. The elevator pitch isn’t really a pitch. It’s a summary and an open invitation for the other person to engage. Horn’s approach is what you would do from a platform, when you’re speaking to a group and you want to draw them into your line of thinking. Because this opening is so important, let’s look at it in more detail.

Did You Know?

Did you know that web articles can be read in about one minute? The average person reads somewhere between 450 and 600 words per minute, and most web articles now are only 600 words. Did you know that reading is 3 to 4 times quicker than listening? Most people speak at the rate of only 150 words per minute compared to the reading rate of between 450 to 600 words.

While you don’t know exactly where I’m going with these questions, didn’t it get your attention? “Did you know” engages your brain to test what is being said. “Did you know” can lead you to discovering the scope of a problem that you didn’t even know about. Did you know that roughly 100,000 people die each year from healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in the US alone? That’s true – and now you have a sense for the scale of the problem.

“Did you know” can also provide a different perspective. Did you know that only 50% of the high-risk objects in a hospital room are cleaned during a standard “terminal” (between patients) room cleaning? Did this question move you to expect that the hospital room you’re entering is clean or dirty?

“Did you know” can also expose previously unconsidered possibilities. Did you know that you can reduce healthcare-associated infections by helping employees escape burnout? Most people wouldn’t directly make the link between provider burnout and patient outcomes – but the research says that there is a direct causal relationship. Most folks wouldn’t have considered working on employee mental health to improve outcomes, but that new possibility may be more effective than the standard training.

Wouldn’t You Like?

Imagine what it would be like for your audience to start leaning in and asking for more information. Imagine what it would be like to have a line of people waiting to speak with you after your presentation. This strategy of “Wouldn’t you like”-type questions and “imagine” statements decouples the possibility of the solution from the presentation of the solution.

The traditional strategy of telling someone that you can do something is met with initial resistance. Our initial reaction is to find ways that this can’t be possible. By using the keyword “imagine” or phrase “Wouldn’t you like,” you remove the constraint of whether it’s possible or not. This, coupled with a concrete vision, can be a powerful way to help to drive to your solution.

The Solution

The closing is to indicate that the solution they’re dreaming of isn’t a dream after all – it’s something you can do. It’s something that has been done and is real. After making it clear that it’s real, you simply need to apply credibility markers, so they know your claim of the solution is something they can trust in.

The Phrase-that-Pays

If you’ve ever watched infomercials at 3 in the morning, you’ve heard phrases that get stuck in your head. Ronco will forever be remembered for “Set it and forget it.” You may remember Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” campaign or Calgon’s 1970s-era “Ancient Chinese Secret” campaign. These phrases got stuck somewhere in our consciousness.

Certainly, some degree of this is just the sheer number of times that we heard them due to marketing budgets behind these key phrases. However, there’s a bit more to it than just that. Horn recommends these tips:

  • Distill: Condense your call to action into eight words or less.
  • Rhythm: Put your words into a beat so they’re easy to repeat.
  • Alliteration: Use words that start with the same sound.
  • Rhyme: Use rhyme if you want to be remembered over time.
  • Pause and punch: Deliver your phrase-that-pays with distinctive inflection.

Undivided or Undevoted Attention

Horn admits that she doesn’t always garner the undivided attention of her children all the time. Most parents recognize that they sometimes get the undevoted attention from their children as they focus on their phones, a show, or a game.

The question becomes how you can convert the undevoted attention of your audience into undivided attention.In the service of the goal of getting people’s undivided attention to your message, you may want to see if Horn Got Your Attention? in her book.

Diversity and Inclusion Start with Acceptance and Appreciation

I was standing along the back wall with my thoughts on the session that I’d be giving in a little more than an hour when a friend of mine, Sue, walked up and asked if I’d join the panel that was about to start. She explained that the moderator was working on a microphone for me in the anticipation that I’d say yes. I looked to my left and saw the moderator and friend of mine, Heather, speaking to the technical staff. I answered Sue that I’d be happy to help. In truth, I was wondering what value I could offer. It was a diversity and inclusion panel and I felt like the “token old white guy.”

I think Sue sensed my discomfort, in part because I’d be speaking immediately after the panel in another room, and in part because I didn’t know how I’d help. She explained that without a man on the panel, it wouldn’t be very diverse. In my head, I heard without a man on the panel, it might degenerate into “male bashing.”

As I took my place on the stage, I recognized the wisdom in her words. It wasn’t the first time she’d done panels like this. I’d been in the audience more than a few times at these panels when someone wanted a place to express their frustration, and it was all the moderator and panelists could do to keep the conversation from devolving. As the session started, I held back the desire to identify myself as the token white guy and introduced myself as a man who had daughters who have a contribution to make to the world.

The Clarifying Question

I realized that, at some level, my presence was enough to help keep things from going off the rails; but, ever the engager, Heather made sure that some of the questions ended up on my lap. I’m rarely shy about answering any question, even with “I don’t know,” but this was different. The panelists were my friends. They were sharing how they’d felt held back in their careers and how the audience members could cope with the similar situations they were clearly facing.

Then, there it was, hanging in the air: “What can we do to change the culture?” The implied statement was that just talking about diversity and inclusion wasn’t enough. Things weren’t changing, and they weren’t getting better. The answer that thankfully flowed, as Heather lobbed the question my way, was simple.

Acceptance

Acceptance is the first answer to how we resolve the diversity and inclusion problem. I call it a “problem” because it is one. In technology, there are not enough women. In nursing, there are not enough men and, to some degree, not enough persons of non-Western, European descent. In both cases, it’s about accepting other people and making them feel like, well, people.

As I blurted out my answer, I knew I had to explain. Too few people had read David Richo’s How to Be an Adult in Relationships – and it’s not the sort of book title you can tell people to read without them becoming instantly offended. Richo explains in the book that everyone needs five As: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing. Admittedly, it’s not a business book. It’s a book about being your whole self, so not everything applies to a business setting. However, the idea of accepting does.

Acceptance is a recognition that you don’t get to control the world, and your view of the world may be wrong. (See Compelled to Control for more on control and Incognito for more on perspective.) When you accept other people for who they, are even when their experiences and perspectives aren’t yours, you open the door for diversity and inclusion.

The Difference

Diversity of thought makes a huge difference in the outcomes you can get. The Difference explains the dynamics of how this works and why it’s important. It’s not just about limiting “group think” but is instead an expansive concept that creates value and opportunity if you’re willing to listen.

If you’re willing to accept people, you can begin to become aware of the value that they can bring in perspective, in experience, and in just being a fellow member of the human race.

Oblivious

My wife sometimes claims that I’m oblivious. Thankfully, she doesn’t claim it as often as we both didfor our boys when they were teenagers. However, there are times when I don’t pay attention. In most areas of my life, this isn’t a benefit; but in one area, it is very valuable.

I’ll be trying to explain how she knows a colleague of mine. I’ll describe what they’ll look like when she meets them at some conference or event. Or, rather, I’ll try to describe them. I generally do a lousy job. I’ll start by talking about how smart they are or how their view is really interesting before getting the look, which explains you can’t identify someone by looks if you’re talking about how witty their comments are. I often realize that I struggle to articulate how she’ll be able to know how to figure out who I’m headed towards for an introduction.

Sure, I can get tall or short and thin or “big boned,” but when it comes to ethnicity, I fail. I’ve quite literally, and somewhat embarrassingly, had a friend explain that he had been discriminated against as an African-American. The embarrassing part was that, to me, he was just a friend. I hadn’t given his ethnicity a second thought. We had known each other for more than a dozen years at that point. It was an awkward moment that eventually passed but one that made me recognize that I truly don’t see ethnicity differences.

I also don’t see men and women differently from the perspective of what they can deliver, and that can get me into trouble if I’m not careful.

Willow Creek

Whether you’re Christian or not, what Willow Creek Church (based in Barrington, IL) has done is impressive. Bill Hybels grew the church into one with massive attendance and respect across the globe for their mission. He, with others, created the Global Leadership Summit, where business and ministry leaders could come together to inspire leaders to be better than they currently are – whether they’re Christians or not. And then, as he was winding down his impressive contributions to society, scandal struck.

The board had investigated some claims by women and found them to be not credible – at least not to the extent they had claimed. While traveling overseas, Bill had invited a woman to his hotel room to work on some ministry planning, and it had made her uncomfortable. Bill, by most reports, had not at the time considered that she would be uncomfortable, and I believe he truly had no malintent. (I recognize that this is convenient when I don’t know Bill personally and am not directly involved.) When you see people only as valuable colleagues, team members, and contributors, you don’t always see where their fears may lie.

The press got the story, because the woman didn’t feel as if her concerns were heard by the church board In the end, Bill stepped down, both from the church he loved as well as the Global Leadership Summit that he had shaped for so many years.

For me, it’s a reminder that sometimes being oblivious to the differences isn’t safe. Sometimes, I must pay more attention not to minimize, limit, or constrain the contributions of my colleagues but instead recognize that, just like me, they have fears and concerns – and they’re not the same as mine. Luckily, my wife nudges me into awareness that not everyone sees the world the same way I do.

Mike Pence

I’m proud to be from Indiana. We do a lot of things right in the state – and more than a few that are wrong. I appreciate that Mike Pence can be vice president, and I applaud his commitment to his values in a career as a politician that makes it all too easy to bend to the public opinion.

Pence has drawn some criticisms from the remarks that he won’t dine alone with a woman who is not his wife. Some call this sexist and believe that it represents prejudice. I see it a bit differently. I see it as respect for his wife and protecting something that is for them alone. While I wouldn’t draw the line here, I respect and appreciate his right to do so.

More importantly, I see this as the opposite end of the awareness and concern spectrum as Bill Hybels. Where Bill in his belief in humanity didn’t worry much about improper appearances or accusations, Mike is more concerned. In my opinion, it doesn’t make either man wrong. It makes them human. They get to decide how much they trust others and how that trust is borne. Each man accepts people in their diversity, they just guard themselves differently. However, as I was sitting on the stage, I realized that acceptance wasn’t enough.

Appreciation

It’s one thing to have sympathy for someone and a different thing entirely to have empathy. Sympathy acknowledges where someone else is – but separates you from them. Sympathy says: “It sucks to be you.” Empathy says: “I understand this about you.” Empathy brings people closer, where sympathy pushes people away. Acceptance without appreciation is like sympathy in that it doesn’t bring them closer.

The missing component is another of Richo’s As: appreciation. While we must start with acceptance, because you can’t appreciate something you can’t accept, stopping there isn’t the whole picture. You must recognize that each person brings a unique and precious value to the world and the situation you find yourself in.

I’m not good with details, and while it may be frustrating to have them pointed out by our office manager, I recognize that I’m the one with the problem, and it’s a problem that she helps me work around. Her value in that situation is helping me see where I will get harmed if I’m unwilling to pay attention and resolve those pesky details.

I’m learning to be better to accept the feedback that I’m missing something and appreciate the person raising the issue – no matter who they are or what position they are in the organization.

Getting Off the Stage

As I was getting off the stage, I realized that we can’t teach diversity and inclusion directly any more than we can teach people how to be wealthy. We must teach people to be wise, and wealth will come. If want to develop a culture of diversity and inclusion, we can’t sit or stand on stage and extol the values of the diverse organization. To get to the culture we want – and need – we’ve got to start by working on the fundamentals of accepting everyone else and then move on to developing a deep appreciation for every human being.

I don’t know what the audience got from the panel, but I got a clarity that I get to carry with me.

Who Knows?

Have you ever had this happen? You have a problem, but it’s not an easy fix you can just Google the answers for. In this engagement video, we guide you towards Teams, where you can ask questions, ping people’s attention, and receive responses from your fellows.

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Book Review-Positive Psychotherapy: Clinician Manual

I’m not a clinician. I didn’t play one on TV. I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night. However, I did read Positive Psychotherapy: Clinician Manual. It’s a toolbox for counselors and clinical psychiatrists for want to help clients reach their capacity for positivity in their lives beyond the ailment that may have driven them to seek help in the first place. It’s a recognition that just fixing the problems isn’t enough and the problems that people come in with are more frequently the result of other problems.

Seligman

In an indirect way, Marty Seligman suggested that I read the book. I had read Flourish and was preparing for our work on burnout (see ExtinguishBurnout.com). I wrote Dr. Seligman, and he answered. His brief response confirmed what I already suspected. Learned helplessness, a lack of hope, and burnout had the same root. They were, in imprecise terms, the same thing. I thanked him and eventually asked for places where I could learn more. The response blew me away. It had references and people to reach out to for more information. One of the people I should reach out to was Tayyab Rashid, who had some at the time unpublished guidance for clinicians trying to help patients with psychotherapy.

By the time I reached him (after reading The Hope Circuit), Positive Psychotherapy: Clinician Manual was published, so I bought it.

Clinical Context

While I’m not a clinician, I’m very interested in the topic of psychotherapy and what does and doesn’t work. It was early 2015 when I published my review of The Heart and Soul of Change: Delivering What Works in Therapy. It was 2016 before I returned to the topic of psychotherapy to look at how patients – and the public at large – were assessed in The Cult of Personality Testing. I followed that with a critical view in Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology. Finally, in August of 2016, I got around to House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth, which had an even more critical view of the profession.

Despite the many critical pieces in my reading list, I’m generally very positive on the capacity for someone to be helped through talk therapy. It is my belief that what we make of the world is largely in our head. It’s the reality that we don’t see the world – we see, and then our brain creates the world (see Incognito). Helping refocus thinking can be powerful if done well.

Positive Psychology

Psychology got stuck. The problem was that it was focused on problems and their resolutions. Instead of asking the question about what people could become and how they could thrive, it was stuck in survival mode. Psychology became niched around dealing with the negatives of life’s equation, and it needed a push to get out of the rut. That push came when Marty Seligman took the helm of the American Psychological Association (APA). He made it his mission to drive forward the idea that it was just as important to help people reach their happiness potential as it was to address misery.

Mental health had come to mean a lack of disorders listed in the DSM (currently DSM-V), but health isn’t the same as the absence of illness. Mental health needed to be reframed so that it actually meant health.

Positive Psychotherapy: Clinician Manual is designed to bring the tools that have been discovered and developed into a clinical setting for the benefit of the patients.

Strengths

Central to the practice of positive psychology is a focus on the strengths of an individual rather than their weaknesses. Instead of looking to fill in potholes in the road of the patient’s life, positive psychology builds new roads and bridges to places people never knew they could reach. It builds these on the strengths of the individuals. By helping the person understand their strengths, they can better leverage them. By understanding how to enhance strengths, they can get more benefit from them.

Strengths are largely defined as the strengths listed in the Values in Action (VIA) test, which is available for free at authentichappiness.org. Everyone has some strengths in the list of 24 in the VIA test. We all, in fact, possess some degree of these strengths. Our combination of strengths represents our ability to get things done.

The clinician manual spends a great deal of time in the session-by-session section, walking clients through what positive psychology is, evaluating their strengths, and confirming those strengths. It is from this firm foundation that other skills are taught.

Dealing with the Negative

It’s important to note that just because the approach is positive psychology doesn’t mean the negative event, barrier, or dysfunction isn’t addressed. Instead of overwhelming the conversation and relationship by focusing on negative aspects, the overall tone is more balanced by recognizing the positives and acknowledging the negative outcomes.

Despite the positive descriptor, psychology, done correctly, is rarely easy. It’s hard for someone to be vulnerable enough to allow themselves to see how they may be contributing to their problems and what changes they may need to make for it to get better.

Consider a physical example. Someone comes to a doctor because of tinnitus (ringing in the ears). The discovery is high blood pressure, and, in addition to a pill that is supposed to help, the doctor explains that weight loss is critical. Weight loss isn’t easy. It’s takes careful management of what and how much food you eat – and how much you exercise. The representing problem was the result of an underlying problem, high blood pressure, which itself was a side effect of being overweight. Losing weight is hard work – and something that not everyone is successful at.

In psychological terms, the hard work still must be done to address the core problems that are causing someone to feel bad.

Attitude of Gratitude

Some of the activities in the sessions aren’t focused around specific strengths but are designed to help change attitudes. Gratitude, whether in the form of a general approach or through the use of a specific gratitude journal, has far-reaching effects and acts as a lubricant for further clinical work. Barbara Fredrickson, another leader in positive psychology, in her book Positivity explains the power of gratitude. A three to one ratio of positive to negative experiences– which can be fueled by gratitude – can powerfully change your relationships.

She’s not alone, as Matthieu Ricard in Happiness explains the role of gratitude in joy. Rick Hansen explains in Hardwiring Happiness how gratitude can be a powerful force to wire happiness into your very being.

Open and Closed Memories

Much of the challenge that we have today is in the hurts encountered in the past that we’ve not yet healed. In the language of the clinician manual, these are open memories. That is, these memories haven’t been fully processed and still cause emotional disturbance or pain. Fully processed memories are said to be closed memories. Closed memories generate neutral or positive emotions. (See Changes that Heal for another perspective on these hurts.)

Here, I struggle not so much in the goal of working to minimize hurts and to address painful memories but in the concept that we can close all memories. There’s plenty of work that says how we feel about something is largely based on how we choose to process it. (For one instance, see How Emotions Are Made.) However, I am not convinced that some memories can ever be fully closed in the sense that they don’t trigger a negative emotion. (See Emotion and Adaptation for more on positive and negative valences to emotion.)

It’s been nearly six years since I lost my brother to an airplane accident. I did a great deal of work, both then and since, to come to terms with what happened, and the result that it had on me personally and on my family. For the most part, I’m OK and have been for some time. However, sometimes, small things will set me into a sense of monumental loss. The pain around the obvious clues are mostly gone. I can see airplanes and even fly without being overwhelmed by it. But, sometimes, it just sneaks up on you, and you feel an overwhelming sense of loss.

For the most part, the memory is closed. It no longer creates pain daily. However, I’m not sure that it will ever be completely closed, nor that it can be.

Post Traumatic Growth

Everyone is familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but few are aware of its mirror image, post-traumatic growth (PTG). Where PTSD debilitates, PTG empowers. Because there’s a focused awareness of PTSD and the pain it brings, few people consider that trauma isn’t always bad. Taleb in Antifragile explains that stress in a certain range can make people less fragile. Like muscles that are torn down in exercise and rebuilt stronger, mental health growth can come through the right kind of struggles.

One of the greatest challenges as a parent is in identifying which stresses to allow for our children so they may grow – and which ones to protect them from that would be too difficult for them to navigate alone. (See The Psychology of Not Holding Children Accountable for one aspect of this.)

Forgiveness

Holding a resentment towards someone is like drinking poison and expecting them to die. Forgiveness relieves you of that poison with no impact – positive or negative – on the other person. Forgiving someone is an important step in healing but is too often misunderstood. Forgiving someone isn’t forgetting the harm they caused nor releasing them of their responsibility to make things right. It is just that you’re no longer holding the harm inside yourself.

While it’s often difficult to accept the power of forgiveness for the fear that you’re somehow making it OK for the other person to have harmed you, it doesn’t mean that. In The Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Axelrod explains that some of the best solutions for modeling behavior seem to echo what we see in life. A Tit-for-Tat program is effective when modeling what happens when two independent actors can choose to work in their own or mutual best interests.

Economists play a game called the ultimatum game, where one person is given ten dollars to split between themselves and another person any way they would like. But the second person gets to decide, based on the split, whether the money is returned, or both get to keep their portions. When the split gets too far out of balance, the second person generally prevents both from getting the money. This makes no sense to economists, because the second person gets something even if it’s small, and turning down the money means they get none, too. In the context of Axelrod’s work, it does make sense.

We’ve evolved with a sense of justice, and when someone takes advantage of us, we want to make them aware that their behavior isn’t socially acceptable. We want them to pay – and that’s part of what has allowed us as a species to develop our social relationships. Even John Gottman in The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples makes the point that the Nash equilibrium, where parties are looking for the best overall outcome, instead of the Neumann-Morgenstern equilibrium, just their own interests, is preferred. That is to say that we’re deeply wired so that we keep people in line through consequences. Fighting that urge when it’s not helpful is difficult but there is hope.

Hope

Of all the positive psychology ideas, my favorite concept is hope. Martin Seligman in The Hope Circuit explains that the idea of learned helplessness should be replaced with the idea that we either learn we have control over our environments or we fail to learn that lesson. Hope, as it shows up as the placebo effect in clinical trials, is challenging to get past. Double-blind studies are designed to ensure that hope doesn’t influence the results. (See Acedia & Me and Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health for more on the role of hope as a placebo.)

The value of hope is its ability to hold off the evils of the world – or at least hold off mental maladies like depression.

Depression

Sapolsky in Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers estimates that, by 2020, depression is projected to be the second leading cause of medical disability on Earth. It’s sometimes called “the common cold of mental illness” because of its prevalence. Depression is a big deal in terms of its impact on society and on people individually. Depression robs people of their ability to feel joy. Instead of being filled with a mixture of good and bad, they can only feel the bad.

Part of depression is the expectation is that the situation will remain the same or get worse over time. The result is a fatalistic point of view that denies the person can have any positive influence over the outcomes they get.

Positive psychology teaches, however, that depression isn’t a permanent condition. Through hope, it is possible to conquer depression and to use the values and strengths that the individual has.

Virtues

Though much is made of a person’s individual strengths, these strengths fit into a larger, virtuous framework. The information about these virtues and strengths is reproduced directly below:

  • Virtue: Wisdom & Knowledge—strengths that involve acquiring and using knowledge
  1. Creativity: Thinking of novel and productive ways to do things
  2. Curiosity: Openness to experience; taking an interest in all of ongoing experience
  3. Open-mindedness: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides
  4. Love of learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge
  5. Perspective: Being able to provide wise counsel to others
  • Virtue: Courage—emotional strengths which involve exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal
  1. Bravery: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, or pain
  2. Persistence: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles
  3. Integrity: Speaking the truth and presenting oneself in a genuine way
  4. Vitality & Zest: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things half-way or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated
  • Virtue: Humanity—interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
  1. Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people
  2. Kindness: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them
  3. Social intelligence: Being aware of the motives and feelings of self and others; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick
  • Virtue: Justice—strengths that underlie healthy community life
  1. Citizenship & Teamwork: Working well as member of a group or team; being loyal to the group; doing one’s share
  2. Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance
  3. Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same time maintain good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen
  • Virtue: Temperance—strengths that protect against excess
  1. Forgiveness & Mercy: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful
  2. Humility & Modesty: Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves; not seeking the spotlight; not regarding oneself as more special than one is
  3. Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted
  4. Self-regulation [Self-control]: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one’s appetites and emotions
  • Virtue: Transcendence—strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
  1. Appreciation of beauty and excellence: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to arts to mathematics to science
  2. Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things; taking time to express thanks
  3. Hope & Optimism: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about
  4. Humor & Playfulness: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people, seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes
  5. Spirituality: Knowing where one fits within the larger scheme; having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort

Framework of Understanding

Learning about one’s strengths provides a mechanism to create understanding. By understanding zest as a strength, you can understand why you may sometimes be prone to jumping into things with too much energy. Unlike the Enneagram, the ViA assessment doesn’t speak of how your strengths can be overused. (For more on the Enneagram, see Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery.) However, Positive Psychotherapy: Clinician Manual makes a point to explain how you can over- or underuse your signature strengths and there by get less than optimal results.

The key is that, as humans, we are always trying to make sense of the world around us. The more tools we have to make sense in a positive way, the more possibilities we have to see the world as a positive place. Investigating our strengths gives us both a way to build on what we have and a way to understand how we may not have been successful as we would like. In a way, it helps our sense of trust in ourselves.

Trust

Trust is a critical concept for humans. It allows us to move to vulnerability and the intimacy that we crave. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more.) It also provides the framework for our societies. (See Trust: Human Nature and The Reconstitution of Social Order for more.) Positive psychology doesn’t discount the reality that sometimes trust is violated, but it builds upon our need to trust ourselves.

I trust that if you read Positive Psychotherapy: Clinician Manual, you’ll find something valuable, whether you’re a clinician or not.

Skunk Works Leadership

I finished writing my review of Skunk Works and I realized that beyond the amazing aircraft that they created, they developed a culture that managed to side-step the government bureaucracy and get things done. Somehow during the mountain of paperwork, they managed to be as agile as a gazelle. This is something that large organizations aspire to today. They feel the pressure to be more competitive, adaptive, and agile because of the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world that we find ourselves in.

The hope here is to find a few nuggets of how the Skunk Works was successful, so that other organizations trying to mimic the results have a blueprint they can use.

No Blueprints

The irony of trying to build a blueprint is that, often, the blueprints came after the part was made at the Skunk Works. There were many times when designers would work with machinists and assembly personnel to figure out how to make something work. They’d mock something up on cardboard, the machinist would make it, and then return the cardboard or part to the designer to get it drawn up.

From most perspectives, this is backwards. However, at Skunk Works, that’s just how things worked. The team worked together to address the need or solve the problem, and then they’d make sure that their individual commitments to the rest of the organization were met. Agile software development would take a page out of this book decades later in deciding that ceremony wasn’t important, people and interactions were important.

You Can’t Contract Your Way Out of Conflict

Own your own business for a while, and you’ll make friends with an attorney or two. It happens because they’ll save your bacon at some point – and because you’re going to be talking to a lot of them. A wise friend of mine explained that contracts are funny things. You write a contract, so it’s clear what should happen when things go wrong – and then you hope nothing goes wrong. You write a contract so you can trust what the other party will do – and you know that you can’t write a contract with someone you don’t trust. It just won’t ever work.

The point of this is that, at Skunk Works, the relationships people had mattered. It wasn’t position, power, or prestige. If you weren’t working together to solve the problem, you weren’t working.

Clear and Present Danger

The Soviets at the time Skunk Works was created represented a clear and present danger to the United States. What we didn’t know was the degree or aspects of the danger. That’s what Skunk Works would eventually end up solving for the US. They’d level the playing field with advanced jet fighters and reconnaissance aircraft that provided the best understanding about what was really happening inside the Iron Curtain.

Skunk Works always had clear targets. At the largest level, it was to be able to protect the United States’ interests. At the micro level, the targets for the aircraft could be specific. The SR-71 Blackbird project was targeted to fly at over 80,000 feet and Mach 3. (For more see, The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird.) They achieved these goals, in part, because they were specific. They had something that the team could shoot for and desire to be a part of.

Secret Handshakes

Being a part of Skunk Works was something special. It was something that few people could say – and to some degree, it was something that even the people inside couldn’t say except to each other. It created a special sense of community inside that circus tent. This was the crack team. They were going to save the US from foreign interests. Everything was riding on them.

There may not have been any secret handshakes, but the secrecy of their projects bonded everyone together in a way that not every organization can accomplish. There was something to being a part of the group – it meant something. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups for more.)

The Fewer the Better

While they weren’t many people, they were handpicked to be the best at their jobs. What was assembled became a testimony to Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The model that the Skunk Works operated under didn’t require more people. In fact, Johnson recognized early on that Skunk Works raises and promotions had to be different, because there wouldn’t be as many people for them to lead. The group wouldn’t require leadership in the same way that the rest of the organization thought about it.

Rather than focusing on empire-building by collecting the most people working for them, Skunk Works managers would focus on output and results. Instead of worrying about competing with others, they’d be focused on how to collaborate with their peers – and compete with the enemy. (This is a lesson that Richard Hackman would drive home in Collaborative Intelligence years later.)

Lessons for Today

It’s great that Johnson and Rich were able to build and maintain a culture at Skunk Works with such amazing characteristics. But how do the leaders of today leverage this wisdom to create a culture of their own that’s capable of incredible results? Here’s a few ways.

Start with Why

Simon Sinek explains, in Start with Why, that people need a shared purpose. While most organizations today don’t have an enemy the size of Russia to target, they can target a change they want to see in the world. This change provides a central theme for everything that the organization does. Organizing principles make it easier to work together towards the common good.

Clear, Compelling Goals

It may start with “why,” but it doesn’t end there. It ends with the specific goals that individuals and teams need to accomplish to allow the organization’s mission to be successful. The specific goals – sometimes very difficult goals – drove the engine forward. The SR-71 Blackbird was only 84% efficient at burning fuel, leaked like a sieve on the ground, and had a horrible habit of the jet engines “unstarting” during flight. Because the goals were clear, these “annoyances” were acceptable. When you’re building something that’s generations ahead of anything anyone else can do, there are going to be drawbacks.

In your organization, clear goals allow you to focus on the requirements, the “must haves,” and allow some of the other things to land wherever they need to.

Compete Outside, Collaborate Inside

Too many organizations have managers pitted against each other in a struggle for resources and power. The real enemy should always be outside the organization. Hackman’s Collaborative Intelligence makes it clear that internal competition doesn’t create well-performing teams. Of all the things that we can learn from Skunk Works, I feel like this is the one we forget most often.

Results

Skunk Works wasn’t easy. It was hard, demanding work, and people didn’t “pussyfoot around” when there was a problem. Results – the ability to get things done – was always at the forefront of mind.

Communicate

In Johnson’s rules for Skunk Works, he made a point that evaluations (budget reporting) had to be timely – and problems needed to be disclosed as quickly as possible. Knowing bad news late does you no good. You need to know bad news as soon as possible, so you can mitigate the risks caused by it. If there was one thing about Skunk Works, it was communication – for better and for worse.

Collocate

For the first time, the people who needed to work together to get things done actually worked in the same space. Instead of designers lobbing designs over the wall and machinists handing them off to assembly, everyone worked together because they were close together. Agile software development learned the value of the product owner and the software development team being close together. It improves the measurable communication – and it builds bonds of trust that allow you to transcend the normal rules for working together.

Trust

Too few people in organizations trust each other or the organization. At Skunk Works, everyone knew that if you did your job to the best of your ability – even if you failed – Johnson (and then Rich) would have your back. You trusted the people you worked for and with. That makes all the difference. (See Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order for more.)

Failure

It seems odd that failure should be a part of success. However, it is perhaps the most important part of success. Without the ability to fail safely, you won’t know about failures until too late, and the organization won’t be able to learn from the failures. So, paradoxically, failure allows you to succeed – when you’re willing to accept and acknowledge it.

Back to Skunk Works

According to the current literature few organizations have matched Skunk Works’ level of functioning. Books like An Everyone Culture and Reinventing Organizations make it clear that our organizations are falling far short of their aspirations. Perhaps if we’re willing to take a look back to the Skunk Works, we can see just some of the ways that we can make our organizations more powerful.

AKA – Writing for Purpose

There are three common purposes for our communications: awareness, knowledge, and action. But when we’re not clear about this purpose, it can be hard for our readers to know what to expect. We decipher the confusion in this communications video.

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Book Review-The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit

Why is addiction of all types on the rise in our society today? If the pharmacological theory of addiction is true – that demon drugs take over the minds of users after only one use – then why is it that there are other, non-drug addictions? How does that explain alcohol enslaving some people but not others? The answers, according to Bruce Alexander, are found in the fact that society is increasingly psychologically dislocated. In The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit, Alexander convincingly explains how we’re more disconnected from each other and our communities than we’ve ever been and how the chief actor in this play is the free market capitalism that most of the world has adopted.

Return to Rat Park

I called out, in Chasing the Scream, how a set of studies illuminated that rats would not overuse morphine added to a water dispenser if those rats had other rats and playthings to make their environment comfortable. That research, called “Rat Park,” was by Alexander and his team. They found that, even in rats, there was a big contrast between happy rats with the socialization and stimulation they needed and rats that didn’t.

This is a big part of the mystery. If morphine is inherently addictive, then how should the cage the rat is in matter? It shouldn’t, but it does. To answer the question of what the factors are that cause addiction, Alexander researched history, including the views of addiction.

Addiction as Illness or Moral Defect

Throughout modern history, addiction in its various forms has been viewed from either the lens that it is an illness – a disease – that should be treated, or from the perspective that it’s a moral defect, and the person should develop a greater constitution. Sometimes addiction seemed to take both forms at once.

There are several reasons to view addiction as an illness. Twelve-step groups teach that it’s not a moral defect but an illness that can be managed but not solved. (See Why and How 12-Step Groups Work for more.) It doesn’t help that DSM-V (the manual for psychological dysfunction) lists various forms of substance addiction as official diagnoses. It seems as if established psychological care groups and addicts themselves have accepted the labeling of addiction as a disease.

At the same time, society has frequently shunned those with addiction for fear that they might somehow draw more people into their downward spiral. It’s as if the addict has the capacity to create a whirlpool that will bring down others.

However, before we get too deeply into Alexander’s research and how addiction has manifested itself across history, we’ve got to stop to define what we mean by addiction.

Alexander’s Four Definitions of Addiction

Robert Palmer sang the song “Addicted to Love,” and in doing so compared love to an addiction. The truth is that neuroimaging confirms infatuation-type love and addiction are virtually indistinguishable. But, in drawing this connection, he illuminated the problem we have with the word addiction. It doesn’t mean one thing; it means multiple. Alexander defines four types of addiction:

  • Addiction1 – Overwhelming involvement with drugs or alcohol that is harmful to the addicted person, to society, or both.
  • Addiction2 – Encompasses Addiction1
    and non-overwhelming involvements with drugs or alcohol that are problematic to the addicted person, society, or both.
  • Addiction3 – Overwhelming involvement with any pursuit whatsoever (including, but not limited to, drugs or alcohol) that is harmful to the addicted person, society, or both.
  • Addiction4 – Overwhelming involvement with any pursuit whatsoever that is not harmful to the addicted person or society.

The problem with these four definitions of addiction is that it becomes unclear what we mean when we’re speaking of addiction. While, sometimes, people are speaking of drug and alcohol use (Addiction1 and Addiction2), they could just as easily be speaking of dependence on a substance or activity (Addiction3 or Addiction4). While we socially make a difference between those addictions that are good for society (Addiction4) and those that are harmful (Addiction3), these distinctions are largely arbitrary.

Workaholic

Using the above definitions, it might be easy to categorize workaholics into category 4. After all, famous workaholics are great creators and people who have moved society forward. However, as you peer through the whitewashed veneer placed on their historical accounts, you often find places of inner turmoil and struggle that reveal a more complex existence. While, on the whole, workaholics may benefit society, the impact to their lives and the lives of those they love may be only slightly better than if they have a more recognized drug or alcohol problem.

An important underpinning of Alexander’s discussion is the need to recognize every addicted person as first a person. Trying to sort people and situations into differing kinds of addiction is necessary for discussion, but it runs the risk of failing to recognize the reality of the individual people who are suffering in ways that are both small and large.

Devoted

Another translation for the original Greek word from which we get addiction is “devoted.” In our modern use of the word, we fail to capture the attachment that exists between the person and the object of their devotion. While understanding addiction as devotion makes the neurological scans make sense, it does little in the way of helping us to sort through addiction and help those that are suffering.

A different definition of addiction, and one that I am particularly fond of, is a coping skill that someone becomes enslaved to. Instead of the coping skill being useful to cope with life, it becomes necessary for survival. Instead of the position of helper, this new behavior or substance becomes the jail master. It’s that transition that isn’t captured well in addiction or devoted. However, it can be captured in another word: slavery.

Voluntary Slavery

Another way to think of addiction, one which probably comes the closest to capturing the mechanisms at work, is to think of addiction as voluntary slavery. This is paradoxical. Why would someone become a slave to someone or something else? The answer is that what the person gets seems more valuable than their freedom.

Consider for a moment the biblical story of the prodigal son. While the ending is well known to us now, it wasn’t for the son. He had disgraced his father by asking for his inheritance in advance and then blown it. He was scavenging for food and knew that his father took care of his hired hands well. His decision to come back wasn’t to come back into slavery but a difficult decision to walk back to the things he had done and suffer any consequences his father might dole out.

In short, he was willing to accept whatever the consequences were for the promise of regular food and shelter. This would be the same story if the father had taken the son as a slave. While slavery is an awful concept and demoralizes the slaves, it can provide some stability.

The Bargain

So, what’s the bargain that would lead someone to believe that slavery is the right answer? In the case of addiction, it’s the quelling of the pain. Though Alexander is very focused on psychosocial dislocation, in my experience, it’s broader than that. Psychosocial integration is the antidote to addiction, but the lack of it doesn’t cause addiction. Alexander himself acknowledges that the greatest limitation in his theory is the lack of ability to predict those who will become addicted and those who will not.

If you look at psychosocial integration as the way to smooth all the hurts and pains that we naturally get through life, a more complete story emerges. Psychosocial integration then functions like the antibodies that we produce. The lack of antibodies isn’t the direct cause of death. The lack of antibodies allows us to succumb to the bacteria that we encounter in going through life.

The addiction is a replacement for the psychosocial integration. It temporarily stands in for the connection that we all need. However, the object of the addiction is a poor stand-in for what we really need – connection to others.

The Pain

The pains that lead to addiction are many. It could be not being accepted by your family. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on the role of acceptance.) It could be feelings of fear. (See Find Your Courage is a good place to start to work on overcoming fear.) It could be a confusion between shame and guilt – and believing you are bad when you’ve only done something bad. (See I Thought It Was Just Me as a start on the journey for differentiating these two.) It can be the harmful things that were done to you. Whether you believe you should have “known better,” prevented them, or just realized that bad things happen, these hurts can become wedged in our minds and bring back repeated trauma.

Addiction makes the pain go away – at least for a while. Medications like ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and aspirin can help you relieve a hurt for a while, but, ultimately, the effects wear off, and you need more. Addictions quiet the pain for a time, but they ultimately don’t provide healing.

Healing

What Alexander is describing with psychosocial integration isn’t just covering up the pain but providing real healing for the hurting. While the temporary relief from the pain may be appropriate, without the work to protect the broken bone and realign it so it can heal over time, the pain will simply continue – and will probably get worse over time, requiring pain medication in greater doses. That’s addiction. It’s failing to recognize and resolve the root problem and instead focusing on pain symptom relief.

From the Scottish Highlands

It’s an interesting theory, but where’s the support for the idea that dislocation leads to addiction? Let’s start in the Highlands of Scotland. In the early 1700s, Scotland was relatively isolated from Great Britain and the benefits of modern English society. They lived together in relatively stable communities. However, transformation began in the latter half of the 18th century, as the Scottish could no longer ignore the growing influence of the English. Cattle and grain were replaced with hearty sheep that were more profitable to the landholders. They needed fewer people to tend the lands, and their communities ruptured. There was great displacement of people who no longer had roles in the community.

It was at this point that the Scottish discovered the alcohol that Christian monks brought with them three centuries prior. While alcoholism was relatively unheard of in their communities prior to the second half of the 1700s, it seemed to explode overnight.

To China’s Opium Dens

China had access to opium since the Ming Dynasty, and it managed to remain relatively productive until the losses in 1839 and 1858 to the British Empire. Suddenly, Chinese ports were open to the full commerce of the Empire, and the Chinese market was radically changed. As with the Scottish Highlands, the disruption in the market from a relatively stable communal relationship to a more free-market approach displaced members of communities whose services were no longer effective or necessary.

It’s here that it starts to become apparent that there is a cause of psychosocial dislocation. The free market system seems to destabilize communities and countries as it marches on towards efficiency, production, and, in some cases, greed. However, any kind of dislocation has the same impact.

To Native American Indian Displacement

A little closer to home in the United States (where I live) and Canada (where Alexander lives) is the displacement of Native American Indians as their lands were taken as property. Whether it was seized or negotiated for as a part of as a treaty makes little difference to the outcome. Natives, whose ancestors had always roamed the same land, were forced to move, and the disruption of their culture could not be more profound.

Children were trained only in English and were “encouraged” to forget their heritage. The resulting disintegration of culture left many adrift. Firewater, or alcohol, was an all-too-easy way to forget the suffering of having lost their way of life.

Warnings from Australia

Alexander didn’t mention the challenges of introducing change that Everett Rogers uses as a cautionary tone at the end of his work, Diffusion of Innovations. The real problem with change – any change – is that you cannot predict all the effects. In Rogers’ case, he referred to the impact of missionaries on aboriginal Australian people. In a culture where stone axe heads were a prized tool owned by the elders and lent through a ceremonial request, the missionaries introduced steel axe heads. The steel axe heads were, of course, more efficient than the traditional stone axe heads. However, more critically, the axe heads were given without the cultural underpinnings of respect. Missionaries offered them to women and young men who would never be able to own a stone axe head.

The intended result was, of course, to elevate the people and improve their standard of living. It seemed obvious that the introduction of the improved axe heads should increase the capacity of the tribe to create value for its members. However, the unraveling of society that came from the introduction couldn’t be predicted. Instead of greater productivity, the Aborigines slept more. The desire for the new power of the steel axe head caused at least some cases of husbands prostituting their wife to near total strangers in return for a steel axe head.

A simple introduction of one good – the steel axe head – seemed capable of collapsing an entire culture to near ruin. To be fair, the source article that Rogers refers to, “Steel Axes for Stone-Age Australians,” admits that, while the axe heads had primary influence, there were other influences coming in from Europeans. There was no way to say that the steel axe heads by themselves were causal for the breakdown. However, in the context here of explaining the introduction of free market and how it impacts the stabilization of a community, it makes little difference whether it was the axe head or some other disruptive, free market influence.

Poverty of the Spirit

The subtitle explains that Alexander’s work is a study in the poverty of the spirit. However, what does that mean? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Reviewing the beatitudes from Mathew 5:3 in the New Testament of the Christian Bible doesn’t help. Alexander only says that he believes that dislocation is a poverty of spirit. He contrasts this with a material poverty.

It’s an important distinction. Is material poverty a mitigating factor for addiction directly, or is dislocation, or poverty of the spirit, the mitigating factor? Looking at celebrity addiction, it’s relatively easy to isolate material poverty as not being a mitigating factor. And so, it seems that, though those with addiction often find themselves in material poverty, this is more the outcome than the cause.

A deeper look into what it means to be poor of spirit is, however, warranted.

Poor in Spirit

There are context clues scattered throughout, which lead to an image of the emptiness and feeling of being lost or set adrift that are at the heart of the poverty of the spirit. To be full of spirit is to be full of life and zest. A compelling purpose sucks a person forward into the vastness of their potential impact. To be poor in spirit it to be without this light.

For some, it is possible that the light never shone. It’s possible that their very earliest memories had nothing lighthearted or fun. For most, however, there would be some light that burned or at least flickered before being snuffed out by life’s circumstances. Without the psychological integration that can nurture this flame and even relight it if necessary, those who are poor in spirit must remain this way.

Need for Purpose

Atul Gawande explains in Being Mortal that seniors in living facilities live longer if they have something to take care of – even if that something is simply a plant. It seems that we’re hardwired to need to take care of something. When we become disconnected from others, we have nothing to care for except ourselves. This is not a natural state for us as humans, and most find this to be a painful experience.

Stopping Addiction

While there may not be any sure-fire way of preventing the spread of addiction or helping those recover from addiction, it’s possible that we can learn more about the factors that increase the likelihood of addiction and try to understand what we might do to make things better. We can’t stop The Globalization of Addiction individually, but perhaps we can work together to make it better.

The Evolution of Leadership

It’s impossible to really understand what things were like a generation ago. We apply our perspective from today and come up with a distorted version of the past. We can’t imagine how leadership worked at the turn of the last century, with authoritative leaders creating a group of employees only slightly removed from slavery. We look at a new generation of workers and wonder why they behave differently than us when we were starting our careers – and fail to recognize that this is both true and untrue at the same time.

It’s time we hopped a ride in the way-back machine to get a better picture of what things used to be like, so we can understand the changes that are happening – and what it means to us.

Safety and Fear

The common thread that we’ll find as we walk through the changes in society, and therefore leadership, is the prevalence of safety and its relationship to fear, both physical and psychological. Human behavior is shaped by fear and safety in large and small ways. When looking from the leadership lens we see that we need to lead in ways that are more aspirational and less authoritarian. Why is that case? As it turns out, there’s a reason that drives this change in leadership styles.

Physical Safety

Our ancestors primarily considered their physical safety. Given their mortality and the struggle for water, food, and shelter, they didn’t have much room to consider how they felt. The introduction of “the pursuit of happiness” to the Declaration of Independence was, at the time, a foreign concept. Most people were locked in the struggle for mere survival, and happiness wasn’t a concept that was worthy of consideration for all but a select few.

The driver when it came to safety was our physical well-being and the well-being of our families – because they were a part of our safety net.

Driving Safety

It’s 1926, and Route 66 is becoming the experience of a lifetime for many travelers. It’s a call to adventure and an opportunity to explore the country in ways that hadn’t been possible before. The road was a continuous stretch from Chicago to California – but it was just that: a stretch. Automobiles had been made practical through Ford’s innovations of mass production, and since 1908, they were an affordable way to travel. Ironically, Ford shut down manufacture of the Model T shortly after Route 66 was completed. (Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Model_T.)

Reliability of the automobile isn’t what it is today. The first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 wasn’t initially a race as much as it was an endurance test. Getting automobiles that could travel 500 miles without breaking down was a challenge. Sure, there was a winner, and the goal was to cross the line with the highest average speed; but of the initial field of 40 cars, only 12 finished. Another 14 still had engines running, but flagged out when they were disqualified – the remaining 14 cars weren’t functional by the end of the race. (Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1911_Indianapolis_500.)

These were the top automobiles of their time, and fewer than a third finished 500 miles. Route 66 was roughly 2,500 miles. Breakdown wasn’t so much of a possibility as a probability. If you did break down, you had a toolbox on board to try to resolve the problems yourself, because, in this world, there weren’t cell phones, and the service stations weren’t close together. You’d also expect to have food and a tent in case you needed to camp out along the route. (Source https://www.historic66.com/.)

It is difficult for us to conceive of a time when traveling was so hazardous and error-prone. Today, we punch in an address in our GPS receiver and wait for turn-by-turn directions to our location. Just a generation ago, we taught map skills to children because it was important to understand how to route ourselves. We expect that cellular signals will reach mobile phones so that, even in the rare case of a problem with our car, we can call someone to help us with a repair, a meal, a room, or directions.

We feel safer in many different directions. We believe that problems happen much less frequently, with lower severity, and we believe that we’re able to recover more rapidly. Few of us keep stable food in our cars today, much less camping equipment or tools in case we need to plan on camping out or repairing the car ourselves.

Food Costs

The truth is that we were able to take risks like traveling the “mother road” of Route 66, because our discretionary income was increasing. Sure, the 1930s were marred by the Great Depression, but there were other factors that were moving towards greater affluence. Consider that, in 1900, the average American family spent approximately 40% of their income on food. By 1950, that number was down to 30%. Today, our cost for food is less than 15% of our income (on average). (Source: https://www.bls.gov/opub/100-years-of-u-s-consumer-spending.pdf.) In the space of 100 years, we freed up 25% of our income.

Reducing the cost of food means that fewer people were at risk of starvation. That isn’t to say that there aren’t still families struggling today to keep enough food available, but the number of families for which this is a problem is substantially lower than it was a century ago. The problem of food safety (enough food) is still an important social issue, but the prevalence of families for whom this is a consistent struggle is decreasing.

House Sizes

Many families took their new-found discretionary income and poured it into their houses. In 1950, the average home size was less than 1,000 feet. By 1973, the size ballooned to about 1,500 square feet. (Source: https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/housing-trends.) From 1973 to 2015, the average size of homes ballooned another 1,000 feet, while the number of people living in each home went down. The net effect was a near doubling of space per person in the space of about 40 years. (Source: http://www.aei.org/publication/new-us-homes-today-are-1000-square-feet-larger-than-in-1973-and-living-space-per-person-has-nearly-doubled/.)

The perceived financial safety transferred to Americans making larger investments in their houses. In 1950, the average house price was $7,354. The average home price today is $236,400. Even adjusted for inflation, the cost of a 1950s home would only be $44,600. That’s nearly a 5-fold increase in the last 70 years. We’re feeling safer about our financial futures and we’re turning homes into castles – almost literally.

Mortality

It may be frustrating to not get to our destination, but it’s more challenging to realize that we’re not going to live to see our grandchildren. In the 1800s, the average life expectancy was 35 years. Today, the life expectancy is around 70 years. In the last 200 years, we’ve doubled the life expectancy of humans across the planet. (Source: https://slides.ourworldindata.org/global-health/#/title-slide.) Measured differently, in 1900, about 2,500 people of every 100,000 would perish each year. Today, that number is approximately 750 people – roughly one-quarter. (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data-visualization/mortality-trends/index.htm.) Our fear of death is real – but it is waning because we know that the average lifespan keeps climbing.

Instead of a persistent fear of death and injury, we’ve quelled our hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis.

Hyperactive Fear

The landmark study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) taught us that a tumultuous childhood has long-range impacts. (See a wealth of resources about the ACE study at https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/acestudy/index.html.) The primary stress response system is the HPA, and activating it too much causes a predisposition of continued activation. That is, once you create a high degree of fear in a child (or an adult), you’re likely to see them be sensitive to fear in the future. They’ll respond with fear more readily than someone who hasn’t been similarly primed. (See How Children Succeed for more on the impact of the ACE study on children.) It turns out that the clock winds back even into the womb, as David Barker discovered in his research around the fetal origins of adult disease (FOAD). Some adult diseases can be predicted based on the stressors to the mother during pregnancy. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more on ACE, HPA, and FOAD.)

In short, the impacts of stress on children – even before they’re born – have long-term consequences for their ability to control themselves and their long-term health. Walter Mischel and his colleagues showed that the ability to delay gratification has substantial long-term impacts for a child’s life through their “marshmallow test.” (See The Marshmallow Test.) When we reduce the fear that children feel and the stresses placed on them in utero, we can place them in a position of being more able to regulate their own emotions and quiet their fears and desires. As the societal stressors are reduced one by one, we’re literally changing the wiring of our brains and making them more thoughtful and less fear-based.

Psychological Safety

Amy Edmonson is responsible for crystalizing the term “psychological safety” as a representation of how safe members of a team feel about the team itself. In some teams, there is a real belief that they can be themselves – their whole selves – and in other teams there exists a perception that you must only do what is expected of you, and you shouldn’t share your all.

Bodies and Minds

It used to be that people hired the bodies, and the minds were just along for the ride. However, with today’s more taxing requirements for creativity and innovation, it could be said that we hire the minds, and it’s just the body that transports the mind to work – even if that’s just across the hall to the home office.

It’s hard to understand that, before the extreme automation that we’ve developed today, we really did need people performing backbreaking work. It was necessary for people to do many of the jobs that today are handled by robots or other kinds of automation. Today, not everyone even sweeps their floors any longer. A robotic vacuum does scheduled cleanings, makes a map of the places it’s cleaned, and notifies you when it needs its bin emptied or if it’s gotten stuck. It’s no surprise then that the physical aspects of work are no longer key. Today when we lead, we need to do more than just command other people’s bodies where to be. We must inspire them to think in ways that are useful.

Minds Aren’t Easy to Manage

We all love to believe we’re in rational control of our faculties. It’s a convenient lie to believe that we can command ourselves to do things. However, few New Year’s Resolutions are kept: dieters, on average, gain back 107% of the weight they’ve lost. Clearly, our conscious decisions don’t always work.

Drive shares how a small amount of stress – time pressure – can change the degree to which people can be creative about their solutions. Getting the best work out of the people you work with is something that takes a Multiplier, but that guidance isn’t particularly clear about how you lead every day by getting the most out of others.

Making of Managers and Not Leaders

Until the last two decades or so, it was enough to lead by directing, or managing, people. However, this is no longer the case. Today, we must find ways to inspire the hearts and minds of people. This is substantially more challenging than just bossing them around. However, that’s how leadership has evolved.